Appreciating Nurse Lusher
Eliza Jane Lusher was born 15 years before the abolition of slavery. History tells us that she was a woman of fearless courage whose work during two yellow fever epidemics sets her apart in the history of Bermuda’s nurses.
When she married John Henry Lusher in 1837 at the parish church in Southampton, the marriage records reveal that her maiden name was actually Elizabeth Jane Darrell.
Regrettably, in 1825 her husband died, leaving her to support two young children.
Where she received her nurses’ training is unknown, but what is known is that in 1853 Major Soulden Oakley requested she come to Ireland Island to nurse soldiers who had contracted yellow fever. Compensation for her work was discussed, but the major died before the funds were allocated.
Despite this setback, she continued to care for the soldiers using her own funds. In that same year, the British Empire was at war against Russia. Although the majority of the Crimean War was fought on the Crimean Peninsula in Russia, the wounded British troops had to be ferried by ship across the Black Sea to the military hospitals in Scutari, Turkey.
The facilities were appalling and this resulted in more troops dying from diseases than from their war wounds. There was a desperate need for nurses. Florence Nightingale, of Britain, and Mary Seacole, of Jamaica, were among the nurses who heeded the call and travelled to Scutari. In Bermuda, Eliza Lusher, working at Ireland Island, heard of this need and decided to volunteer her services.
In 1855, she applied to the Governor of Bermuda, Colonel Freeman Murray, for travel documents. On January 5 that year, the Governor wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies at Downing Street.
This letter tells much about Eliza:
I have an urgent application from Eliza Lusher, a coloured woman about 30 years of age, to be allowed to go to Scutari as a nurse to attend to the sick and wounded in the military hospital there. This woman was very useful in attending the sick soldiers during the prevalence of Yellow Fever on this colony in 1853, and bears an excellent character. She is most anxious that Government should furnish her with a passage to Turkey for this purpose and from what I can learn of her I believe her services would be extremely serviceable in such a capacity. I beg strongly to recommend that her prayer should receive your favourable consideration.”
Colonel Freeman Murray, Governor
On March 20, 1855, an incoming dispatch written on February 16, 1855 from Downing Street denied the request.
In 1856, there was another yellow fever outbreak on the island. Once again Nurse Lusher was called upon to attend the infected victims throughout the island. All of the 85 people she cared for survived, but most could not afford to pay her.
She fell into desperate poverty and became seriously ill. Once again, she petitioned the Governor, Colonel Murray, for government assistance. A petition requesting funds was sent on her behalf to the House of Assembly.
The parliamentarians had high praise for her good deeds, but the request was callously denied in a vote of five for and 13 against. The Royal Gazette of August 10, 1858 revealed the names of the compassionate and, more importantly, those who showed no genuine human feeling for her sacrifice to this community.
In 1859, nurse Eliza Jane Lusher died in Southampton unappreciated by 13 parliamentarians for her selfless devotion to the infirmed of her country.
In this Nurses’ Appreciation Month, let us never forget Eliza Lusher and the sacrifices made daily by nurses.
• Cecille Snaith-Simmons, SRN, SCM, is the 2020 Adult winner of the Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest. She has used references from 19th Century Church Register of Bermuda by A.C.Hollis-Hallett, the National Archives and Kew, and gives sincere thanks to Edward Harris, PhD, and Linda Abend